Imperial College London

New student challenge aims to improve sporting chances for people with disabilities


Rio Tinto supports student learning initiative at Imperial in lead up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games– News

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Thursday 8 December 2011
by Colin Smith

Students are being challenged to design and build new types of sporting equipment for people with disabilities in the lead up to the London 2012 Paralympics, in an initiative funded by Rio Tinto, launched today at Imperial College London.

The five-year Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge aims to harness the creativity of Imperial’s students in order to make sports more accessible to people with disabilities and to improve the sporting and training equipment available to them.

The Challenge will form part of the curriculum and it will involve students from across the College’s Faculty of Engineering.

Audio footage of Sarah talking about the potential benefits of this Challenge for people living with disabilities and her preparation in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is available below right.

Today, at the official launch of the Challenge, leading British Paralympic athletes such as Javelin thrower Scott Moorhouse, Wheelchair Racer Dan Lucker and Para-triathlete, Jimmy Goddard came to Imperial to speak to 120 students taking part. They talked about their sports and the techniques and technologies they use to help them to adapt their equipment, which enables them to compete. This follows on from a visit in October by gold medallist Sarah Storey, who came to Imperial to talk about her sport paracycling and provide advice to teams who were about to begin their projects as part of the Challenge.

Although the Challenge’s official launch took place today, students have been gearing up for it since October. For example, third year undergraduates in the Department of Bioengineering are aiming to develop technology for people with arm disabilities that they hope could enable such people to take part in competitive rowing for the first time.

In the video (right below), Professor Anthony Bull, from the Department of Bioengineering, talks about the Challenge and the benefits that working with Rio Tinto could bring for students, and second year undergraduate Sian Watkins and her fellow team members discuss their plans to develop a technology for people with arm disabilities.

Professor Bull, who is also Imperial’s lead organiser of the Challenge, says:

“Today’s event is the symbolic start of what has the potential to be an absolutely fantastic and fun learning experience for students. Apart from being a great way to learn about engineering, we believe that by harnessing the talents of Imperial students, they will be able to come up with innovative ways to improve the sporting performance of Paralympians and enhance the quality of life for those with disabilities.”

As part of their project, teams from the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Electronic Engineering will be encouraged to interact with one another, sharing their ideas, knowledge and developing leadership and team skills. They will be joined by postgraduates studying for the MSc in Innovation Design Engineering, which is run jointly between Imperial and the Royal College of Art.

The students will develop prototype technologies and manage their design project, writing reports, creating presentations and making log books. They will also have the opportunity to take part in summer projects and enter a “Dragon’s Den” style competition, where their inventions will be judged by a panel of experts, with financial incentives for winning teams.

The Challenge will also enable students to develop their professional skills by working with Rio Tinto, who are the Official Precious Metal Providers of the London 2012 Paralympics. The company will provide a mentoring programme for selected students, giving them the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading engineers. Ultimately, this may lead to job opportunities for students when they graduate.

Joanna McKenzie, principle adviser from Rio Tinto, adds:

“We are delighted to be working with our long term partners at Imperial College to give students the exciting opportunity to come up with innovative designs and the chance to work with inspirational athletes from the Paralympic sporting arena.”

Professor Jeff Magee, Principal of the Faculty of Engineering, concludes:

“The Challenge builds on our very strong relationship with Rio Tinto. It is absolutely vital that institutions like ours work closely with industry on innovative projects, so that we can foster the types of skills that industry needs from graduates. The UK is crying out for more skilled engineers and I commend Professor Bull, his colleague Professor Jan Cilliers, their colleagues, and our friends at Rio Tinto for developing a project that could have a real impact on people’s lives. The work from this project could help more people with disabilities to compete in sports, which is an excellent goal.”

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